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Talking Religion with Others

Post  Callisto on Sat Jun 08, 2013 7:55 pm

There are already a couple of other discussions about explaining Hellenismos to others based on individuals' specific instances. I thought it might be worth having a broader all-purpose topic for general advice, since there will be times when we're faced with discussion not just with family and friends (which can be often highly emotional) but with others with whom there is no equal closeness or attachment.

Some may have already had such experiences, so I think it would be helpful to hear how you've kept things productive, or at least civil. Here are a few suggestions:

Don't Take The Bait.
I was on a (non-pagan) forum in which another polytheist attempted to field questions about polytheism and neo-paganism. As is often the case, it quickly went nowhere. However the upside is it reminded me of something I learned long ago: don't allow yourself to be baited. That holds true regardless of whoever is the other party. The other person had not learned this yet and comments directed to him quickly degraded into him having to take a defensive position as the others proceeded to swarm him with one "fact" and twisted interpretation after another. Meanwhile, posts directed to me were far fewer because I would not allow myself to be baited. Subsequently the otherwise aggressive participants stuck to tag-teaming the other person. He lost control of the situation early on and the discussion became pointless because he allowed his end of the discussion, and the validity of his religion, to be based on their religion's terms.

So:

1. Don't allow the discussion to be based on one religion's POV. It's that simple. If the purpose is to learn and exchange views, "comparison" means looking at things alternately, not solely per one religion. And if the other person refuses this stipulation, then there can be no discussion because they're not there to hear anything other than what they hold true already. They've come into the discussion with the presumption that your religion is "wrong" and fully intend to leave with that same presumption. So everything said in-between is a waste of time before it's even said.

This was the other person's misstep, which a lot of people make. One religion is not the yardstick by which another religion can be measured. As soon as that is allowed, one religion automatically "fails" because it doesn't adhere to the parameters of the other religion. Those who denounce religions rely heavily on this tactic, it's the only way to "win". Which happened in this instance and that portion of the thread instantly became one of him repeatedly having to justify his beliefs which "failed" their measure and created an instant platform to not only denounce other religions put glorify their own and "prove" they were correct.

So stay firm on this stipulation and point out they would be equally disinclined to proceed if the roles were reversed. Don't be surprised to be met with a lot of bluster about "not the same, mine is the one true way", "our sacred text says..." etc.

2. "Your religion is 'new', therefore it's false." I.e., if you're Neopagan or a polytheistic recon then you're just practicing something that was recently "invented". Yet if you point out a) per that logic, they've just admitted their religion is man-made as well, given it's proven historical development out of preceding religions and b) therefore was "new" at one time - thus indicating their religion has only now become "true" because it's been in practice for several centuries. [Cue bluster and various sacred passages.]


Insist on legitimate external primary & secondary sources.
Whether it's "mine is the one true way" or "yours is fake, your gods are false/not gods" etc., this often stops the above cold, usually ending with some version of "I don't have to, I'm right and you're wrong. These books ARE correct. Our sacred text says…," etc..

Point out providing objective third-party primary and secondary evidence and research that supports their argument should be possible if it is, in fact, (the one) truth. After all, if what they're citing is "fact" it would be acknowledged in other sources as well. They'll either continue to provide sacred text passages and apologetic publications, or simply stomp off.


Stay Calm and Remain Polite.
Nothing deflates an attack as when someone can't get a rise out of you. Emotion only works to your advantage when the other person has his knickers in a twist. Sadly, there will always be people who go through life with intellectual and/or spiritual blinders on and that has nothing to do with you or your religion. It really is their problem, don't give them permission to make it yours, because it's not. You can only provide information, it's on the other person whether they're ready, capable of or willing to understand something.

You don't need to win people over, and you can't make them accept what they can't or won't. You can only provide information and hope they're able to listen.

Sadly there will always be people so myopic and fearful that they can't process anything outside of their beliefs. Personally I've found that people who have true spiritual conviction and devotion don't fear it can be threatened or shaken by something that differs. If so much as hearing something that differs from yours is a threat, the real problem isn't the other person, it's you and you really need to reflect on that. Unfortunately, there are people who think that understanding another POV means they have to be accepting of it too. It's entirely possible to gain understanding yet still personally not agree with it. Understanding means being able to see what it is another believes and why, not that you have to adopt it for yourself. If something else so easily undermines a person's own beliefs, that's their personal matter to sort out.


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Re: Talking Religion with Others

Post  Erodius on Sat Jun 08, 2013 10:38 pm

One religion is not the yardstick by which another religion can be measured. As soon as that is allowed, one religion automatically "fails" because it doesn't adhere to the parameters of the other religion.
Regardless of whether or not one believes this to be true, I think it is just something that one ought to expect and be ready for when discussing religion outside of a purely secular context — a non-religious university religious studies classroom, for instance — though even then, this situation still appears, as I have experienced in religious-studies classes that have more than one religion as their focus, and which, consequently, tend to have a variety of faiths and non-faiths represented in their rosters.

If one is studying religions for the pure sake of studying them, I don’t see reason to be ‘measuring’ religions at all. However, I think any religious person (into which category I would include adherents of "affirmative atheism" — by which I mean the atheists who believe in No-God, and sometimes feel moved to spread their unbelief)— will unavoidably measure other religions by one’s own. I don’t think it is possible not to. I even have seen it here, and on the old forum, where individuals, for instance (and I am not condemning anyone specifically, nor can I even specifically remember such individuals' identities), have measured Christianity, or other religions, with a Hesiodian or Delphic-Maxim yardstick — a different religious tradition condemned for transgression of a moral and spiritual code that it does not even ascribe to. It is not these individuals’ fault. I think the only way to measure any religion (and I am neither encouraging nor discouraging doing so) is by another ‘thing’ with the same sort of being — and I would say the only thing that fits that bill is another religion or quasi-religious system (state communism perhaps, or Juche, or affirmative atheism I would all consider quasi-religions, and I have read convincing arguments that A.A./Al-Anon exhibits many characteristics of religion).

they would be equally disinclined to proceed if the roles were reversed. Don't be surprised to be met with a lot of bluster about "not the same, mine is the one true way", "our sacred text says..." etc.

I agree absolutely. However, I think this goes both ways. I think it fundamentally impossible for the kind of discussion you are mentioning to be ‘fair’ in the way I think you mean it. Each side will judge the other by whatever it considers to be the ultimate source of authority, whether that means the Bible, the Qur’an, the Gita, Hesiod, L. Ron Hubbard, Pythagoras, contemporary science, or one’s own reckoning or self. Try as many have over the eons, the world does not agree on what the supreme authority is, and as long as it remains this way, I don’t think it is possible to ever have a fair or objective measure of different worldviews, including religions.

Yet if you point out a) per that logic, they've just admitted their religion is man-made as well, given it's proven historical development out of preceding religions and b) therefore was "new" at one time - thus indicating their religion has only now become "true" because it's been in practice for several centuries.

This could definitely be a helpful course of action in certain situations, but it depends on whom you are addressing, in terms of what religion they are espousing. I may be wrong (and probably am, with regard to some denominations) but I am under the impression that most Christian groups recognize that there was a time before Christianity was available and have had various routes by which they have tried to explain the fate of the number of otherwise righteous people who must have lived in the many centuries before Jesus’ time in which it was not even possible to have accepted Jesus, even if they’d wanted to. Nevertheless, there are several religious traditions that I can think of, (some Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu et al.) and probably others that I can’t, that consider their teaching/tradition to be uncreated or pre-existent to the world or cosmos, or even the basic fabric of reality itself — as some very orthodox Brahmin Hindus believe about the Vedas. Some Islamic groups, I know, consider that the Qur’an was simply revealed to Muhammad, but had always existed in Jannah (Islamic Heaven), and that Islam was the original religion of Abraham (and, I think, some Muslim traditions say, of all the first peoples of the world). In these situations, this approach just is not applicable.

Whether it's "mine is the one true way" or "yours is fake, your gods are false/not gods" etc., this often stops the above cold, usually ending with some version of "I don't have to, I'm right and you're wrong. These books ARE correct. Our sacred text says…," etc..

Point out providing objective third-party primary and secondary evidence and research that supports their argument should be possible if it is, in fact, (the one) truth. After all, if what they're citing is "fact" it would be acknowledged in other sources as well. They'll either continue to provide sacred text passages and apologetic publications, or simply stomp off.
I don’t think it is that simple, honestly. I don't think most (or almost any, actually) objective, third-party evidence and/or research exists to support virtually anything theological whatsoever. Evidence may be found in support or opposition to physiological and geological aspects of some religious traditions, but not theological. People have been trying to objectively prove and disprove the existence of Divinity Itself for eons, and to my knowledge, nobody has definitively succeeded in either camp. And again, I think it all boils down to what any one person perceives to be the ultimate source of reality/truth/right — and I am certain that this basic question has broad and far-ranging disagreement on its answer.

Nothing deflates an attack as when someone can't get a rise out of you. Emotion only works to your advantage when the other person has his knickers in a twist. Sadly, there will always be people who go through life with intellectual and/or spiritual blinders on and that has nothing to do with you or your religion. It really is their problem, don't give them permission to make it yours, because it's not. You can only provide information, it's on the other person whether they're ready, capable of or willing to understand something.

Absolutely, 100% true — although I would be a hypocrite to say I am not biased in saying this, because I absolutely am. Theios Pythagoras taught his disciples that, should they run into a situation in which they felt pulled to engage in any sort of altercation with another person, whether physical or verbal, they ought to first leave the situation and go off for a time, ideally until the following day, and then reassess whether they truly want to duke it out. Most of the time, and in my own IRL experience, you decide, after a preliminary cool down and some time to think, that you really don't want to fight it out after all, and that it probably isn’t even worth it in the first place. Certainly, at times it is worth a fight, but more often than not, there is very little to be gained, and plenty, if not everything, to potentially lose.

Sadly there will always be people so myopic and fearful that they can't process anything outside of their beliefs. Personally I've found that people who have true spiritual conviction and devotion don't fear it can be threatened or shaken by something that differs. If so much as hearing something that differs from yours is a threat, the real problem isn't the other person, it's you and you really need to reflect on that.
I think everyone is, to follow along with what I’ve been saying all throughout, at least partially incapable of processing anything outside of his/her genuine convictions (by which I mean more than just things a person agrees with or supports). Likewise, I think this discomfort you are describing on the part of those whom you personally do not consider to have true spiritual conviction is not necessarily (though certainly it must be in some instances) because of fear for their own convictions, but for fear of others’, whom they might feel responsible for guiding along the path they know is right (and I mean ‘know’ — regardless of the ultimate truth of the knowledge, a Christian knows he/she is right every bit as certainly as a Muslim or a Lingayata or anyone else). People worry about others whom they care for, whether it is their business to or not, and whether they really ought to or not.

Unfortunately, there are people who think that understanding another POV means they have to be accepting of it too. It's entirely possible to gain understanding yet still personally not agree with it. Understanding means being able to see what it is another believes and why, not that you have to adopt it for yourself. If something else so easily undermines a person's own beliefs, that's their personal matter to sort out.

Absolutely. I think this is a huge issue. People mistake understanding and tolerance with acceptance. In terms of a non-religious instance, someone who believes firmly that homosexuality is a sin, without having to completely shift his/her firm belief in that matter, should still be able to uphold tolerance, and not contribute to anything that would contribute to causing a GLBTQ person any harm to life, limb or safety. This goes both ways, though; there are people who refuse to be tolerant because they feel it means they must accept those of whom they would be tolerant, and there are those who equate tolerance with acceptance and, in considering themselves tolerant people, work themselves into a paradox where, in order to maintain what they think is tolerance, they force themselves, understandably awkwardly, to accept a host of things that are contradictory, consequently acculturating themselves to an Orwellian doublethink.

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Re: Talking Religion with Others

Post  Callisto on Sun Jun 09, 2013 6:45 am

Erodius wrote:Regardless of whether or not one believes this to be true, I think it is just something that one ought to expect and be ready for when discussing religion outside of a purely secular context — a non-religious university religious studies classroom, for instance — though even then, this situation still appears, as I have experienced in religious-studies classes that have more than one religion as their focus, and which, consequently, tend to have a variety of faiths and non-faiths represented in their rosters.

I think some things are obvious, such as expecting the potential for opposition or bias when attempting to discuss one's religion with those of another, especially outside of academia. As evidenced by a couple of other existing topics on the board.

If one is studying religions for the pure sake of studying them, I don’t see reason to be ‘measuring’ religions at all. However, I think any religious person (into which category I would include adherents of "affirmative atheism" — by which I mean the atheists who believe in No-God, and sometimes feel moved to spread their unbelief)— will unavoidably measure other religions by one’s own.

I was not referencing academic study and discourse, rather the situations that commonly occur among family and acquaintances which tend to be far less objective and most often highly emotional. While individuals are influenced by their personal beliefs, that does not necessarily preclude individuals from being able to (or at least trying to) look at other religions openly. If for no other reason to at least try to wrap their head around what a loved one or acquaintance believes. What many face is what to do when dealing with individuals so heavily biased they are resistent or seem incapable of comprehending that which does not mesh with what they personally believe. Unless such a person has some meaning in your life (not 'you' personally), it's often not worth the effort. But when a person is faced with someone who is a part of their life, and they deem it worth (or necessary) to make the attempt, there is a need to find a way to get the other person to understand they need to make an attempt to meet you halfway, as much as such a thing is possible for them.

I think it fundamentally impossible for the kind of discussion you are mentioning to be ‘fair’ in the way I think you mean it.

I meant "reasonable" moreso than "fair". Though to use "fair," I mean each party endeavoring to employ what I mention above. Neither religion is going to be regarded on the precise level as what the individual holds his own. That's pretty much a given. But individuals should be able to at least be willing to comprehend basic distinctions in order to better grasp ideas built upon them. E.g., orthopraxic vs. orthodoxic, (Hellenic) piety, lack of original sin. The listener does not need to agree, but at the very least be willing to comprehend and acknowledge basic elements greater discussion expands on, rather than dismissal because even basic concepts differ from his own and seem alien or "wrong".

This could definitely be a helpful course of action in certain situations, but it depends on whom you are addressing, in terms of what religion they are espousing.

I didn't suggest that what I presented is applicable or definitive to all instances, please note I suggested others contribute what they have encountered in situations of their own. There are practices that maintain they are the "one true way". The particular forum situation I mentioned occurred with a Christian denomination. Obviously there will be various situation that will differ per individuals and religions involved.


I don’t think it is that simple, honestly. I don't think most (or almost any, actually) objective, third-party evidence and/or research exists to support virtually anything theological whatsoever.

Then you'd be surprised how often it is that simple. The fact that most objective third-party research doesn't support it is the point. It's my experience that individuals who are theologically adamant, most commonly they are only familiar with texts that support it. And when those resources happen to cite information regarding other religions, the information is twisted to serve their purpose. Such persons are typically not students of Classical Studies, nor well read (outside of their comfort texts). Most times when recons find themselves discussing religion with others, it's with family, friends and co-workers. If one happens to be in mainly academic circles, then there's a greater likelihood of discussion with individuals with more rounded in-depth knowledge. But often someone's relative or co-worker is not necessarily well-read on their own religion, much less in various academic and theological studies.

Absolutely, 100% true — although I would be a hypocrite to say I am not biased in saying this, because I absolutely am. Theios Pythagoras taught his disciples that, should they run into a situation in which they felt pulled to engage in any sort of altercation with another person, whether physical or verbal, they ought to first leave the situation and go off for a time, ideally until the following day, and then reassess whether they truly want to duke it out. Most of the time, and in my own IRL experience, you decide, after a preliminary cool down and some time to think, that you really don't want to fight it out after all, and that it probably isn’t even worth it in the first place. Certainly, at times it is worth a fight, but more often than not, there is very little to be gained, and plenty, if not everything, to potentially lose.

I figured out similarly through experience. If someone is confrontational from the start, I just let them rail. While they do so, and depending on the nature of the topic and the person, I decide whether it merits responding to points raised, best to wait until they're capable of rational discourse, or conclude it would be a waste of time to pursue.

I think everyone is, to follow along with what I’ve been saying all throughout, at least partially incapable of processing anything outside of his/her genuine convictions (by which I mean more than just things a person agrees with or supports). Likewise, I think this discomfort you are describing on the part of those whom you personally do not consider to have true spiritual conviction is not necessarily (though certainly it must be in some instances) because of fear for their own convictions, but for fear of others’, whom they might feel responsible for guiding along the path they know is right (and I mean ‘know’ — regardless of the ultimate truth of the knowledge, a Christian knows he/she is right every bit as certainly as a Muslim or a Lingayata or anyone else). People worry about others whom they care for, whether it is their business to or not, and whether they really ought to or not.

There are individuals who do respond fearfully. To continue with the example forum, there were a number of topics on whether even brief exposure to something was sinful or damaging in some way. Not everyone is like this, but evidently this is something that can be encountered.

I don't think it's wholly impossible to attempt to understand things outside of one's convictions. If it were, all attempts at interfaith dialog would miserably fail. It does, however, take a person genuinely secure in his personal convictions to at least make the attempt. Intellectual curiosity helps too. I had no problem being on that forum because I do not feel threatened by outside beliefs and am comfortable with (attempting) discussion with individuals who are equally strong in their own.

Absolutely. I think this is a huge issue. People mistake understanding and tolerance with acceptance.

Absolutely true.

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